Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Ateneo Lady Eagles: a championship run for the ages

This appears in the Monday, March 17, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

A championship run for the ages
by rick olivares pics by mon rubio

The season that started with a three-set sweep loss ended with a three-set win. 
Only this one was for a most incredible championship.

March 6, 2013
It began at the end of an era.

The Ateneo Lady Eagles lost their second straight UAAP Women’s Volleyball Finals to De La Salle. This one was over in two matches. They had squandered a two-set lead in Game One and lost the succeeding five sets.

Inside the locker room at the Mall of Asia Arena, the tears flowed. The players known as the Fab Five – Fille Cainglet, Jem Ferrer, Dzi Gervacio, Gretchen Ho, A Nacachi – were done with their college careers. They had helped raise the consciousness and popularity of volleyball and were arguably some of the more popular players around but they had come up short in bringing a title to Ateneo.

In one corner of the room, Cainglet embraced teammate Alyssa Valdez and whispered a request.

“Bawi niyo kami.”

Valdez nodded. Privately, she wondered how the team would accomplish that as they were decimated and all.

One year later. Inside the locker room once more at the MOA Arena. Tears flowed. Only this time they were of joy. Valdez had kept her promise. The Ateneo Lady Eagles had just accomplished the improbable by vanquishing three-time champion La Salle in four games and winning the title via three-set sweep.

The Fab Five were inside the locker room to congratulate their former teammates. Their happy and watery eyes beaming approval.

Valdez and Cainglet shared another embrace. Words of appreciation and thanks were exchanged.

December 1, 2013
The season began with a three-set sweep at the hands of the National University Lady Bulldogs.

No one knew it then but it began a trend that continued up to the Lady Eagles' last game.

The Lady Bulldogs, aided by the arrival of Jaja Santiago conducted a block and spike party that had the Lady Eagles reeling in the first set. They didn’t seem to have an answer for NU’s onslaught.

But Ateneo made a game of it in the first set before faltering.

The girls in blue and white played better in the second set but succumbed to errors that led to an eventual three-set sweep.

The mood wasn’t a bit dampened then.

“First game,” offered libero Denden Lazaro on her way out of the Smart Araneta Coliseum. “We will get better.”

And they sure did.

They were 6-4 after NU dispatched them in the second round. Unlike their first meeting, this time the Lady Eagles took one set.

“It’s not yet over,” Lazaro said later.

With the return of head coach from Anusorn Bundit from Thailand, the team was complete for one final run towards the Final Four. They reeled off four straight wins against Adamson, UE, UST and FEU (in that order) while winning 12 of 14 sets including 10 straight.

February 22-March 15, 2014
In the Final Four, they reeled off another three-set sweep against Adamson before taking down the Lady Bulldogs with a pair of identical 3-1 wins to book another finals match-up against La Salle.

It was said that the Lady Spikers should have been awarded the trophy even before the Final Four was played. They had demolished teams with relative ease. When challenged – as in the case of NU that was said to be their pre-destined finals foe – they raised their game several notches higher. And the result was no different. When some teams took the court to face them, even before a ball was served, they were already beaten; their body language betraying their lack of confidence. 

Once in the finals, Ateneo showcased its newfound confidence and amazing resiliency in facing La Salle.

In the first set of the Finals, the Lady Spikers led 14-3 and were poised to make short work of its rival but they allowed the Lady Eagles to get into a rhythm going 14-11 despite taking the set 25-17.

They changed courts but if La Salle bothered to look, there was no panic in Ateneo’s eyes. They won the next three sets. They weathered an injury to Lazaro in the second game to make a match of it in spite of faltering, 3-1. Then they showed that their Game One was no fluke when they outlasted La Salle in five sets to take Game Three.

Up to that point, the Lady Eagles were tried and tested.

They were in the midst of sixth consecutive do-or-die game.

They had come back from being one set down in Game One.

They had come back from being two sets down in Game Two to show signs of life.

They had survived a furious rally by La Salle who were down by two sets to take Game Three. The Lady Spikers led 11-8 and then 13-11 in the fifth and final set with their supporters chanting “four-peet” and getting ready to celebrate when they rallied to tie the set at 13-all, 14-all before winning it, 16-14.

These past few years, the Lady Spikers had heeded coach Ramil De Jesus’ mandate of crushing foes – “durugin sila” in local parlance. In all the matches thus far, including the one they won, they had failed to do so.

In Game Four, with La Salle up by seven in set two, they methodically came back one point at a time to win, 26-24.

The key to the series had been the second set. In the four games, the team that took the second set went on to win the match. That improbable come back by the Lady Eagles deflated DLSU. Ara Galang was seen trying to egg on her teammates. Team captain Aby Maraño, the team’s heart and soul, normally their fount of strength looked bewildered.

Then came that third set where they spotted La Salle by nine before surviving a last ditch rally before taking the championship, 25-21, for a win for the ages. They started the UAAP volleyball season with a three-set sweep, though a loss, and now they ended the season with a three-set sweep for Ateneo’s first ever women’s volleyball championship.

They had run through a gauntlet of tough foes – Adamson their long time Final Four nemesis, NU their current foil, and La Salle their Finals roadblock -- all the while staving off elimination in each and every one of the games.

These girls showed that nothing is impossible and that something as daunting as a stepladder format and a thrice-to-beat advantage can be overcome with a lot of heart – “Heart strong” as Bundit coined it.

Furthermore, these girls played the game the right way – respect for the game and their opponents. This team or even the ones in years past can never be accused of being a bunch of trash talkers.

And that is why in the end you can only have good words for them.

It started out with an end of an era. And just maybe, they’ll be ushering in a new one.

And the season that started with a three-set sweep loss ended with a three-set win. Only this one was for a most incredible championship.


This is for those who came before: Ronald Dulay, Roger Gorayeb, Charo Soriano, Patty Taganas, Karla Bello, Bea Pascual, Kara Acevedo, Steph Gabriel, Misha Quimpo, Fille Cainglet, Dzi Gervacio, Jem Ferrer, Gretchen Ho, and A Nacachi. And all the others who donned the blue and white.

And of course, for Ricky Palou whose vision and enthusiasm for the sport jumpstarted this.

What is it with storybook runs and 10-4 records?
There were the Blue Eagles of 2002 who were 4-5 at one point in the season, finished the eliminations 9-5, then had to beat UE that had a twice-to-beat advantage (with a game-winning jumpshot by Jec Chia) in the Final Four and then La Salle, that had beaten them in the finals of 2001, for a 2-1 championship win.

There were the Blue Eagles of 2010 that went 10-4 after losing its trio of starters in Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Nonoy Baclao, and Jai Reyes. They lost both elimination round games to FEU and were said to have no chance against Adamson in the Final Four. They defeated Adamson and then crushed FEU in the Finals in two straight.

There were the 2012-13 Ateneo Blue Booters that had come off years of finishing either at the cellar or near the bottom. They defeated tournament favorites FEU, La Salle, and UP to win a championship by outlasting the competition in three successive penalty shootouts.


Still to come: my championship analysis and a feature of Coach Thai! In the next two days on Bleachers Brew.


  1. Nakakaiyak sa tuwa. Seriously. My wife's an avid volleyball fan, and I couldn't help but shed tears too when she cried like a baby after the win. I really thought we could only make it as far as NU. Last year was the best chance. Or so I thought. We only needed to hurdle La Salle and coming from a finals (the previous year) I thought they already figured out how to defeat them. But no. That was a case of ''hinog na'' and too much expectations. This year we're just third fiddle in the pecking order. We needed to hurdle NU whose massive build up showed this season, finishing second in the elims and twice defeating us. So I said to myself NU is our championship this year. is written, "...this one was for a most incredible championship." Ateneo, OBF!

    1. This really an incredible championship for ALE! OBF talaga!! as counting 1-2-3. 1 win from Adamson, 2 from NU and 3 from DLSU...I'm recuperating from my own Singolympics injury during the game 4 time and can't help but cry and shout sa sobrang overwhelmed ng feeling...3 years in a row ko ng pinapanood ang finals between ADMU and DLSU (thanks to TFC as we've watched the games live here in Dubai, UAE) and this is the sweetest!!!! history talaga because we know where they're coming from. And I hope they will reign and defend the title more than 3x pa even the superstars player right now will graduate also...
      OBF lagi kahit the lady Chiefs defeat them on their March 30, 2014 SVL fight (well what to do?!?! guesting never ends...instant celebrity?!?!?!? plus commercial/endorsements?!?!)...
      Thanks Rick Olivares for posting an article like this...
      KUDOS to all!! OBF!!!

  2. As to how Coach Thai, in just 10 games turned a perennially bridesmaid team into a solid, composed, calm, confident, and resilient Team? Small wonder Thai volleyball is the best in our region (SEA).

  3. Is it just me or another case of a writer not doing his assignment (researching) before writing? This article in UAAP76 studio23 site

    particularly this line : " Ateneo became just the second team to overcome a thrice-to-beat disadvantage in UAAP annals."

    Which school did that first? If the writer's thinking about Dlsu and UE in 2007 basketball, remind him that was just a best of 3 affair as the board hasn't instituted the 3x to beat yet for sweepers.

    1. Yes. It was because of UE's loss that a thrice-to-beat advantage was installed. Another stupid rule if you ask me.

    2. I read somewhere that the first team to beat thrice to beat advantage was UP, in 2012-2013? UP vs. La Salle? Table tennis.

    3. If that's the case that too is incredible!

  4. What I'm also curious about is when Dlsu has last lost a 3 setter? Whetjher in elims, play-offs, or finals? This achievement may have also been the first since ages ago (since before Manila's time).

  5. For those who are bitter, an athlete's prayer for you:

    "Dear Lord, in the battle that goes on through life
    I ask but a field that is fair,
    A chance that is equal with all in the strife,
    A courage to strive and to dare;

    And if should win, let it be by the code
    With my faith and my honor held high;
    And if I should lose, let me stand by the road,
    And cheer as the winners go by."

    Fact is clear. Ateneo beat Adamson, then NU twice, then DLSU thrice in the Finals Series. Team mostly composed of rookies. Now that's hard to beat. First local volleyball game televised nationally by the largest TV network. I recall no other team beating a twice-to-beat and thrice-to-beat CONSECUTIVELY. That's history there.

    -(AB EU, 2013)

  6. I have always enjoyed Thai food, thai seafood friedrice most especially!

    Heart Strong OBF!!!

  7. I think you should also commend two very important people who worked laboriously behind the scenes... often out of the limelight spending countless hours on brainstorming and developing the program, logistics, recruitment (both players and coaches), sourcing funds, among a myriad of other things they so selflessly contributed offcam... AdMU UAO’s Em Fernandez and AdMU Volleyball Program Head, Sherwin Malonzo.

    1. In case you didn't notice or read it too well……. I wrote TO THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE. I hardly mentioned anyone from the here and now. And besides, I have on so many occasions (the last on bonfire night), commended Sherwin personally for a job well done.

  8. A great championship deserves great write ups. Thanks Rick for giving credit to these hard working girls currently finishing their final exams except for Bea and Tasha. Much has been said about believing, working hard until you drop and staying the course. Now it has to be told that these girls have the smarts indeed. Rookies as some of them are, their ACADs are great!Let it be known that while the heart pumped strongest, their brains executed perfectly for their win! Kudos everyone!

  9. may you pls do a podcast with the lady eagles? TIA